We continue our review of the clubs so far by capping off the top half of the League Two table as of 1st February 2017.
After another poor season in League Two, Carlisle heavily recruited over the summer with new manager Keith Curle, who started his first full season with the Cumbrians. The likes of Reggie Lambe and Jamie Devitt joined from Mansfield Town and Morecambe respectively and were joined by numerous loans including Macauley Gillesphey and Jamie Proctor. With this said, United were predicted to be chasing the playoffs and it's especially what they're doing.
One of the standout players at Carlisle is the on loan central defender Rob Dickie. After a good loan spell in the National League last season with Cheltenham, the club took the chance to allow him to test new waters and haven't looked back since. A versatile option too, capable as a full-back option, he has been unbeatable in the air this season and it has seen him have one of the highest headers won percentage within the division (as collected by ProZone, again.)
Another on loan individual has stepped up and this time it's the previously mentioned Jamie Proctor. Starting twenty league goals he has scored 12 and his clinicalness in front of goal has allowed him to rack up a career best already, after previous moves to Bradford City didn't work out for the ex Bolton youngster. Now back with his former club Bolton, out on loan here, it will be interesting to see where his career will lead him next.
Finally is a recent acquisition in Greg Taylor who made the move to Carlisle last week on loan from Sunderland. After making his first team debut at Kilmarnock on loan last season, he adapted well to first team football in Scotland and since has been playing for the Sunderland reserves. A loan move was arranged in order to get the young player more first team football and Curle has big plans for the full-back, he'll certainly be one to move as Carlisle look set to upset the playoff race as we approach the run in.
Now without a manager following the sacking of Shaun Derry, Cambridge are currently seeking a replacement as they have openly admitted that caretaker boss Mark Bonner is unlikely to take over at the Abbey Stadium. A winless month continued a quick plummet down the league after a fantastic start to the season, with many arguing the sacking was unfair given the freak start the club had. After a ninth place finish last season, narrowly outside the playoff places a similar season was expected.
It has very much been a team effort by United, with little standout players compared to the playoff rivals around them. The signings of Uche Ikpeazu and loanee Andreja Novakovich heavily influenced the start the team had, collecting a couple of goals between them to narrowly see off opposition. That is one of the problems that could see the continuing fall of Cambridge, following a lack of goals and many have argued that not allowing Derry to finish out the window was a poor decision made by the board.
A few defensive injuries have disrupted the back four with the usual Leon Legge being ruled out for the rest of the season with a broken leg and Bradley Halliday suffered a twisted ankle ruling him out for the month alongside Max Clark's damaged achilles tendon injury. This saw a tactical change from Derry which did not pay off, after his now previous employers were thrashed by the likes of Notts County, Blackpool and Accrington 3-0 all in the space of three games and three weeks. With this said, I expect the injuries will be too much for United and they will finish in the bottom half of the table continuing their downward spiral.
Joining at the end of the season, Darren Sarll's sides were predicted for a 15th place finish from ourselves and many pundits alike. Although with loan signings such as Josh McQuoid from Luton, despite a poor showing at Kenilworth Road last season, they looked like they may spring a surprise or two and It's exactly what they are currently doing in the division.
Starting with McQuoid who left Bournemouth after a second spell last season to join The Hatters on a free transfer. In his debut season he struggled and only managed three goals in 29 appearances, since his loan move to the club formerly known as Stevenage Borough (now the 'Borough' has been taken out the name since promotion from the National League in 2010,) he has managed ten goals in 23 appearances, his best goal to game ratio since his final season in his first stint at Bournemouth in the 2010/11 season.
Another impressive loan signing has been Kaylen Hinds who joined from fellow London based side, Arsenal. Coming through the ranks in 2014, he has been loaned out for the first time as he adapts to regular first team football as the Premier League side seem to be focusing on bringing through more youth talent, something unfamiliar in recent years. His first senior goal was the winner against struggling Yeovil Town in a 1-0 victory at home. Since, he has gone on to become a regular starter in the midfield.
The signing of Jobi McAnuff was perhaps regarding as strange by the fans, however the ex Reading winger has gone to impress since joining on a free in the summer. After a two year spell at Leyton Orient following his surprise release at Reading, where he featured in 35 Championship games and all 38 Premier League games the year before, the now 35 year old is winding down his career but still putting in the performances on the wing with two league goals this season. I believe that the club will remain where they are and end the season above all expectations in the top half.
The overachievers of the league alongside Accrington Stanley have to be the Welsh side Newport County. Still playing their games at Rodney Parade and under the watchful eye of Graham Westley, County looked towards parent club Swansea in order to supply them with the players they needed to survive another year in the division.
To no surprise the star man has been one of those Swansea loanees. Alex Samuel secured a loan move to his first English club after an impressive loan spell with Scottish Championship side Greenock Morton last season and has since gone on to score ten league goals and very much been a key reason to the success County have enjoyed as of late.
His partner upfront has also been in fantastic form, Ryan Bird who had previously had poor spells at Portsmouth, Cambridge and Yeovil turned to the Welsh side for perhaps a last chance at this level of football and has since gone on to enjoy a strong start. Scoring eight league goals in 18 appearances, he has linked up well with the previously mentioned Samuel and been the reason for taking points off top sides such as Colchester United this season.
Little much can be said for County, a modest club who's aim to stay up looks likely and it's all that can be said for now, who knows where the club may go from here but I certainly do think they have what it takes in order to cap off the top half of the table, especially after the loan signing of Jaanai Gordan from West Ham United on loan until the end of the season to give another goalscoring option.
Finally the top half of the table is capped off by Crawley Town who are entering their second league season in League Two since relegation in their third season in the division above, League One. Dermot Drummy was appointed at the end of last season and saw off the club as they finished 20th in League Two, steering themselves away from the relegation zone in the end after looking like a back-to-back relegation was on the cards. This time out, we predicted Crawley to do the same and finish just a couple places above.
Numerous summer signings were made as Joe Boyd, Curtis Obeng and Alex O'Hanlan all joined on a free and a quartet of loans followed with Adam Phillips, Matty Foulds, Admiral Muskwe and Aaron Lewis all joining. The best signing out of the lot would have to be Adam Phillips who has averaged an impressive 7.08 so far this season and sees himself with one of the best tackle won per game averages.
The defensive duo of Josh Yorwerth and Mark Connolly have also impressive for The Red Devils as they have been led the team from the back in order to sustain a number of results this season. This has led to the latter man taking over as captain for the season after a managerial decision was made by Drummy in late October. With that said, Crawley have had some very patchy form over the course of the season so I do expect it to eventually catch up to them and see them drop to just short of the top half of the table.